JFK’s assassination still resonates

Memories fade. Most days are remembered in detail only briefly. As the years pass, they may be totally forgotten or recalled only with difficulty and most often with a lack of precision. There are, however, some days so firmly imprinted on our souls that even decades later they remain vivid.

Most such days relate to important events in the trajectory of one’s personal life. There are a tiny number, however, that are part of the collective memories of almost anyone who was alive when some searing historical event took place.

Dec. 7, 1941, was such a day for the World War II generation. Sept. 11, 2001, similarly resonates for the vast majority of contemporary Americans. After a half century, Nov. 22, 1963, remains a day of powerful memories for anyone who on that date was old enough to understand the gravity of a presidential assassination.

Even 50 years later, just about anyone who was alive on that Friday so long ago can tell you where they were and what they were doing when they learned that John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, had been murdered while visiting Dallas, Texas.

After his death, this president became almost a mythological figure for many people both in this country and abroad. Why that occurred has been the subject of thousands of essays and countless books.

Certainly part of the reason this transpired is that the Kennedy assassination was one of the first national tragedies of the television era. The dramatic sequence of events was conveyed into American living rooms with an intimacy and immediacy that had not been experienced in just that way before.

Kennedy had been in office a relatively short time. That contributed to a widespread sense of loss. By any objective standard, he had not accomplished much of enduring consequence during his brief time in the White House. The brevity of his tenure, however, allowed Americans to imagine that any number of desirable futures that did not occur might have been realized had he lived.

The key to why Kennedy in death became such an inspirational figure to so many Americans, may be that he came to embody symbolically whatever hopes and dreams they had for their nation. The dismal history of the decades that followed his death – urban riots, Vietnam, Watergate – made it easy to romanticize and recall with perhaps undeserved nostalgia his short time in the White House.

Today’s edition of The Messenger includes an extensive retrospective on the shocking event that took place on this day 50 years ago. If you don’t personally remember that day, perusing today’s newspaper may help you understand why it had such an enduring impact. For those readers for whom Nov. 22, 1963, is recalled only too well, we hope today’s issue will be a treasured memento.